Relationship Sales Career
The relationship sales career is not dead yet but it is on life support. This is not a career you would want to start if you are graduating from college today.
I cannot tell you the number of relationship salespeople I have talked to in the last 5 years who are struggling.
The world of business to business sales has fundamentally changed and it is not going back. No longer does a potential customer who has a problem call their account manager or relationship sales rep to discuss a problem they are having.
No longer is a skilled relationship sales rep needed to explain how their product works and how it might solve the customer’s problem.
All the customer has to do is research the various competitor’s products on the Internet.
The Relationship Sales Career is nearly dead.
The pharmaceutical industry has been eliminating relationship sales teams in droves. A doctor no longer has a choice of what they prescribe for any given condition as the choices of medications are driven by what the health insurance policies will cover.
Pharmaceutical companies now spend more time dealing with web apps, email marketing and pay per click online campaigns than actually developing relationships with doctors and other medical professionals that can prescribe their products.
Cloud computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) has changed everything. I spent much of the 1990s working in an IBM customer briefing center where we did confidential technical product disclosures. IBM’s largest customers would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on hardware and software every year. Once a product was installed, it was difficult to change to competitors products. There were huge investments in hardware, software, and skills of technical people. Those days are largely gone.
Most of these technologies now run in the cloud, where you essentially rent the hardware and software. The skilled technicians can be found when needed through a variety of service providers that could be anywhere in the world.
The art of the sale has totally changed.
When I worked for IBM there was the slogan:
This was because choosing other than the tried and the true proven solution was very risky and expensive. Now you can rent a software environment and test it out for very little money.
Little old Career Pivot rents lots of software including:
- Web hosting – WP-Engine and WordPress
- Email Marketing – Mailchimp
- Email – Google
- Video Conferencing – Zoom
- Video Hosting – Vimeo
- Calendar Scheduling – ScheduleOnce
- Podcast hosting – Libsyn
- and much more
All of these providers have enterprise solutions that can be installed in minutes rather than days or months.
Do I need a relationship salesperson for this? NO! IBM eliminated all of its customer briefing centers more than 5 years ago.
The Automated Sales Funnel
It is all about creating a sales funnel that starts with sale leads generated online. When you are online you are tracked using a variety of technologies. When you visit a companies product pages, you are tagged as to which product pages you viewed. Now targeted ads can be shown to you, and very targeted emails can be sent. You are now in the sales funnel!
Sales activity both online and offline will be tracked in Customer Relations Management (CRM) systems like SalesForce.com.
I was recently talking with a gentleman who has been a relationship salesperson for the last 30 years. Now he is a sales rep for a service provider in the oil and gas industry. The products he is selling are very specialized and technical but the entire sales process has been automated. His customer calls are scheduled for him via the CRM and sometimes he is given very short notice (less than an hour) usually by a chatbot. In the old days, this would be a relational sale where trust in the salesperson was critical. Today, it is totally transactional. He is not sure he can keep up the pace.
The automated sales funnel has made sales of most products completely transactional. There is no need to build relationships and trust. It is all about tracking you through the sale funnel until you make a purchase.
What to Do Instead?
As I stated at the beginning of this post, I have talked to so many primarily B2B relationship salespeople who see their career going in steep decline.
I often asked them how did they get into sales? The ones that are struggling often say:
“I got into it for the money and the money has been good.”
“Someone I trusted told me I would be good at it.”
“I just landed in sales because it was the only opportunity at the time.”
When I have put some of these people through my Career Pivot evaluation they often exhibit personality traits that are counter to what you would expect a good relationship salesperson to look like. Very early in their careers, they became actors. They learned to play the role of a relationship salesperson but when they hit their later years, usually in their 50s, staying in character became exhausting.
This is the time to do some serious soul searching, financial analysis and deep research on what is next. What to do next will not be an easy choice because the relationship sales career is nearly dead AND it likely was a poor choice to start with.
The challenge I am seeing is we made career choices early in our careers. For some of us, which includes me, made career choices where we became highly successful but were counter to who we really are. Many of us run out of gas in our 50s and will have to make a pivot. There is no simple solution but staying in a relationship sales career is doomed to failure.
Now is the time to get to work.
Do you see yourself described in this post? If so, please comment below and tell us your story.Marc Miller